Facebook Share

Monday, September 1, 2014

Colorado Springs, Colorado



Taking a break from Denver, I get the hotel to shuttle me over to nearby Littleton where I can pick up an accessible rental van from Wheelers. No problems getting there on time or getting the van out. It’s a Chevy Venture with a powered ramp on the side and a Q-Strain tie down system.




Watch the Video!


The van is a little worn around the edges…it has over 80,000 miles on the odometer, the hood does not like to stay closed, you have to heave your weight against the automatic sliding door to get it to shut, and the “Check Engine Light” came on before we had to turn it back in.

It’s also expensive. At $230 for two days, with a 400 mile limit (plus about $50 in gas), it’s about 3 times as much for a decent rental car.


Still, it didn’t break down and got us where we needed to go, with Tim in his chair the entire time.

I take the van back to the hotel to pick up Letty and Tim and we’re off…

About an hour’s drive south of Denver is Colorado Springs, famous as the home of the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Olympic Training Center. It’s also famous for the giant 14,000 foot, snow covered mountain…Pike’s Peak…that hovers over it.

We had originally planned on driving up the toll road to the top of Pike’s Peak but the heavy snowpack has closed the road short of the peak. Instead, we head to the Garden of the Gods.

The Garden of the Gods is a stunning collection of red rocks sticking out of the ground south of town and just east of the peak. It’s also one of the few free or cheap attractions in the area being completely admission free.

We start off at the visitor’s center, across the street from the main entrance, and get a free map from one of the workers. She points out a hidden handicapped parking lot, about a quarter mile past the first big lot, where there’s a trailhead to a paved, accessible trail.

There’s also a deck outside perfectly situated to get views of the park with the massive Pike’s Peak behind it.

We grab a couple of snacks from the café, get back in the van, and head in.



It’s not hard to find our parking lot. There are about a half dozen handicapped spaces…all empty…and we park right next to the trailhead. There is 1.5 miles of this accessible trail winding through the central garden area, home to almost all of the park’s main features.

The first big rock we walk by has a natural arch at the top. Because of its shape, it’s called the “Kissing Camels.” It looks like a couple of dromedaries locked in a smooch.

Just beyond this is a large plaque dedicating the park to free public use forever where there is also a lot of historical graffiti scratched into the rock.

Across the way, several climbers are working their way to the top of another big rock. If you’re an experienced technical climber, with all the proper equipment, you can get a permit to climb at the visitor’s center.

Continuing on, there are points on the path where we can get up close to the rocks and touch them or even get inside some of the nooks and crannies.

We see about a dozen species of birds on the walk, some who stay still for pictures and others who are a bit more fidgety.

After our hike, we get back into the van and go to the other end of the park where there is a huge boulder balancing on top of another rock.

Letty climbs up to get the obligatory pictures but I notice that there are two large deposits of concrete under the rock. Let’s just say that the park staff wants to make sure this rock balances for perpetuity.

It’s one last look at Balancing Rock and then back in the van.

We drive to the high point of the park and see these jets, probably from the nearby Air Force base, practicing over the park.

After a couple of more pictures, we head out.

A few miles away, we drive through an old part of town. There seems to be a medical marijuana outlet on every corner. I’m thinking to myself, it’s already a mile high here…how much higher do you want to be?

Beyond that, we get to our next destination, Seven Falls.



This is another park full of natural beauty but unlike the Garden of the Gods it is not free. In fact, it’s $9.95 per person, which seems a bit steep to look at a waterfall and there is no discount for the disabled. We were able to secure a dollar off coupon on our map of the Garden of the Gods so we at least got that.



There is a gorgeous and very narrow canyon at the entrance. This is also the location of the only restrooms in the park so make sure you stop here first or else it’s a long walk back down.

At the top, there are three handicapped spots and a visitor’s center. A ramp will get you up into that building and to the plaza behind it where you can get up close to the bottom of the falls. There is also a stage here where Native Americans sometimes put on shows.

Next to the visitor’s center is a pool where large trout live. There are vending machines where you can buy fish food for fifty cents.



A toss of the food on the water creates a feeding frenzy.

You’re not supposed to do it, but the local chipmunks will also eat that food right out of your hands. We didn’t do it but many other visitors did.

Across the parking lot from the visitor’s center is a tunnel into the mountain. To the left are some railroad tracks rusting away on the mountainside. These are the remains of an old funicular that took guests up the mountain to a viewing platform.



Today, there’s an elevator at the end of this tunnel.

Visitors can now ride up the lift to the platform and see the complete set of falls.



This is also the accessible way to see the falls.

If you’re strong and able, there is a very long staircase that takes you up to the top of the falls.

We spend a little time up here, soaking in the views, before heading back down, checking out the gift shop, and then heading out of the park.

Originally, we had planned to drive to the top of Pike’s Peak via the toll road there. The toll is just under $40 as of this writing but the snowpack had the road closed short of the peak. I also question whether our little van with the check engine light would have made it up to the 14,100 foot peak.

That plan scratched, we head over to the nearby town of Manitou Springs and visit the Cog Railway. We didn’t take the train, with a cost of over $100 for the three of us, but a special train with a cog to grip the steep slope takes visitors to the top of the mountain.



It looks like a lot of expensive fun. It’s wheelchair accessible but with only two spots on the train, reservations are essential. Call a couple of days ahead to book your space.

The gift shop here is a notch or two above the others in the area so we actually buy a few things here from the very friendly staff.



On the way out of town, we see this big inn and snap a picture. This is Miramont Castle, originally built as a home to the priest who ran the local sanitarium. Quite a residence for someone who’s taken a vow of poverty.

You can now tour the castle and have tea there. We didn’t but there have been lifts installed to help visitors in wheelchairs to see all the levels.




With that, our day trip to Colorado Springs is over and it’s back in the van to return to Denver.

-Darryl

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved



Sunday, August 31, 2014

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Denver Pub Crawl, Part 2


Last week, we started the crawl with three pubs on or near the 16th Street Mall.  Today, we'll finish it with a couple of joints in LoDo and then move onto our last stop on Colfax Avenue, just east of downtown.



Watch the Video!

Going upscale for our first stop, it's the Denver Chophouse and Brewery which is adjacent to Coors Field in the old Union Pacific building.

This is no ratty dive bar. It's a very nice restaurant, with great food, that happens to also brew beer...as you do in Denver. The food is awesome.  We have a lobster club sandwich, Cesar salad, new york steak, fries, sweet potato fries, and a bacon-cheeseburger for Tim.

The beers are all in-house brews.  We have a Dortmunder lager, a crisp refreshing German style beer, and their wheat ale, which is filtered unlike most of your wheat beers and has a clear, clean look.  Both were very good, the bitterness of the Dortmunder just right...even Letty liked it...and a very crisp taste to the wheat ale.



Next, it was a quick hop over to Blake Street for one of our favorite stops on the tour, the Falling Rock Tap House.  Not a brewery but what a selection! Their slogan is "No Crap on Tap" and it's fitting.  You'll not find the likes of Bud, Bud Lite, Miller, or even the state's biggest beer, Coors.  Like sitting in someone's converted garage, we relaxed on worn leather chairs while the fresh air wafted in from the large doors.




 Tim and I had New Belgium's Mothership Wit, a wheat beer very similar to Hoegaarden, and Letty had the La Folie, also from Boulder's New Belgium, a tart, sour ale which turned out to be her favorite of the trip.  A bit too sour for me and way to sour from Tim (be sure to see his reaction in the video above, it's priceless).  Letty, always a fan of the sours, really seemed to like it.

Our last stop was supposed to be our first stop last week.  We had trouble finding it but found I had transposed a couple of numbers on the address.  The Cheeky Monk on Colfax, about 4 blocks east of the capitol, is a Belgian Cafe with a large number of great Belgian brews on tap.

We were lucky to get there between 11 and 2 when almost everything is half price and there's a great selection of delicious lunch plates for only $5.99.



To eat, Letty and I had a penne with a gorgonzola cream sauce and bacon, while Tim had sliders with a side of fries cooked in truffle oil.

Our first round of beers was two dubbels...Maredsous for Tim and La Trappe for me.  Both had a musty, yeasty, and smooth taste that were almost identical.  Letty had a Bacchus sour ale, which she liked, but it just had an initial jolt of sour, which quickly dissapated.

Next, I had a St. Bernardus Quadrupel, which had a banana taste and weighed in at a hefty 12% ABV.  Tim had an Ommegang Rare Vos, which again was quite smooth and delicious, while Letty had a Kasteel Rouge, another Flanders sour ale but this one was actually way more sweet than sour, tasting like a fermented Dr. Pepper.




 And that's the end of the crawl, be sure to check out the video embedded above to follow our exploits across the pubs and breweries of downtown Denver.

-Darryl

Friday, August 29, 2014

Denver, Colorado - Part 3


In Part 1 of our Denver report, we made it to our 21st Major League Stadium by taking in a Rockies game at Coors Field, tried out Denver’s nice but imperfect light rail system, and had a very..VERY…good dinner at the Wyncoop Brewery. In Part 2, we spend some time exploring downtown and start a pub crawl. We also got to the Denver Zoo which is a zoo, frankly, with all the field trip kids there.



Watch the Video!


Yesterday, we took a day trip to Colorado Springs (report coming soon). The Springs doesn’t have great public transportation so we went ahead and rented an accessible van from Wheelers Van Rentals. The van itself wasn’t cheap…$230 for two days…and looked to be ridden hard and put away wet.

Still, it got the job done and got us where we needed to go.

We get a hot breakfast buffet included in our rate at the Drury Inn and Suites. The choices are scrambled eggs, biscuits & gravy, sausage, cereal, waffles, bagels, and toast. It’s the exact same selection every day. We’re getting a bit burned out on it.



Skipping the hotel breakfast, we head to Colfax Avenue east of downtown to Pete’s Kitchen. Pete is a bit of a restaurant legend in this town who immigrated from Greece, opened a diner, and parlayed that into a mini restaurant empire here in Denver. There’s Pete’s Kitchen, Pete’s Sapphire Lounge, Pete’s Gyros, Pete’s Greek Diner, and more.

His kitchen is a retro diner masterpiece but there’s no room for a wheelchair in the small, original diner space so we sit at a table in the room that was added on. Today we feast on a green chile breakfast burrito, pancakes, eggs, bacon, hash browns, and French toast. It’s very delicious and just a bit more than cheap.



Back on the road, we head east of Denver to Morrison, home to Red Rocks Park. Like the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, this is a public park full of great red rock features. The best known of which is the Red Rocks Amphitheater.



The theater is world renowned for its striking beauty, attracting artists as varied as Willie Nelson, U2, and the Beatles.

There are no big acts playing while we’re in town, so we can just stroll in and wander around. Today, a couple of hundred teenagers are running around the place in between practicing for their graduation ceremonies which will be taking place later in the week.



Tim and I head to the top row where we can get a striking view down to the stage. If you’re in a wheelchair at this 70 year old venue, you can either sit in the top row or the first row. There is nothing accessible in between.

From our perch on the top, it is soon apparent that there is no accessible route down to the stage so we get back in the van and find the handicapped parking area near the park’s trading post.



To get to the stage from here, there’s a long ramp that hugs the side of a red rock cliff.

It’s a steep ramp and luckily Tim has his power chair. If he’d had his manual chair, I don’t know if we’d have made it up. Even so, I’m huffing and puffing a bit when we finally make it up.



A set up crew is moving equipment onto the stage for the graduation ceremonies, but we’re able to go around them and spend some time onstage via a ramp at the end.



It’s quite a thrill to be standing in front of the 10,000 seats…right on the same spot as John & Paul, Willie, and Bono to drop just a few names.

The view from the stage must be quite inspiring to these performers.



Our time here is up and we head back down to visit the trading post. While there, a bit thunderstorm hits and we have to navigate our way back to the van through a downpour of pellet sized hail.

We continue on to Golden but the weather doesn’t cooperate and we’re only able to get a few pictures of the town and the massive Coors brewery.

Heading back into town, glancing to the north of downtown, I see a funnel cloud and ask Letty if that’s what she sees too. In town, there’s just a slight drizzle and we head to the Cheeky Monk for a quick bite. Afterward, back in the car, we turn on the radio just in time to get the Emergency Broadcasting System’s announcement of a tornado warning.

Luckily, it’s a few miles north of us and we’re heading south. Back to our cozy suite at the Drury Inn where we can relax in the warmth, pack up, and catch the taxi back to the airport in the morning.

-Darryl

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved



Monday, August 25, 2014

Denver, Colorado - Part 2


In Part 1 of our Denver report, we made it to our 21st Major League Stadium by taking in a Rockies game at Coors Field, tried out Denver’s nice but imperfect light rail system, and had a very..VERY…good dinner at the Wyncoop Brewery.



Today is dedicated to exploring downtown Denver a little more and to start our Denver Pub Crawl (click on link to see the pub crawl portion of this trip on the Cocktail Hour).


Watch the Video!



Again, it’s the E Line from the Dry Creek light rail station a few miles south of downtown and across the street from our hotel, the Drury Inn and Suites in Englewood, Colorado. All the way to the end of the line at Union Station.



From there, it’s just a few steps to hop on the best accessible transit in Denver, the 16th Street Shuttle Bus. These great hybrid buses run up and down the mile long 16th Street Mall every couple of minutes. A ramp opens on the second door back (manually by the driver) and you can park in one of two dedicated spaces very easily. The driver will tie you down if you’d like but the buses are the only vehicles that travel the mall, and they don’t go too fast, so you might not think it’s necessary.


The 16th Street Mall is closed to vehicle traffic, except the buses, and the result is a very nice, mile long pedestrian mall. The shopping selection is a bit bland, mostly corporate chains like Bed, Bath, and Beyond; Corner Bakery; Starbucks and the like but all the good places in downtown are within three blocks or so of this artery.

Alighting from the east end of the mall, it’s one block to the golden domed state capitol building. Another couple of blocks east is the house that the unsinkable Molly Brown lived in.

Our pub crawl got off to an inauspicious start here as we couldn’t find the first pub we wanted to try (I mixed up the address number, we were only half a block away and would get there later in the week) and the second one turned out to be inaccessible to wheelchairs.

Walking back to downtown, we pass the Denver Art Museum, with its giant broom and dustpan out front, and the U.S. Mint, which was closed to tours on the Sunday we walked by.



Across 16th Street, our next stop is the Brown Palace Hotel. In business since 1892, this was the country’s first atrium style hotel. Its wrought iron balustrade and stained glass ceiling hover over the lobby area where afternoon High Tea is being served as we walk in.

The beauty of the lobby and the hotel take your breath away when you walk in. Nook, crannies, and multiple hallways invite you to explore the building. We go in for a drink in the dark wood paneled Ship Tavern.

Afterward, I make sure to get a drink from the old water fountain near the front door that serves up water from the hotel’s own artesian well located 720 feet below the building.

Back on 16th Street, it’s time for a snack and some coffee to take the edge off our pub crawl at the Corner Bakery. Continuing on, we meet one of Denver’s great characters, Denver Robo Mike, as we have drinks at the Paramount Café, adjacent to the Paramount Theater. Robo Mike and I commiserate about how shabby Shaquille O’Neal was treated by the Lakers and other assorted NBA topics. Yes, he was in full robot regalia, including his huge afro. He’s a very nice guy and I suggest keeping an eye out for him when you’re on 16th Street.



The light rail takes us back up to 20th Street. From here, the map says it’s a little over a mile to walk to the Denver Zoo. We can also take the 32 bus…which we just missed…but since the next one won’t be by for another half hour, we start walking. And walking…and walking.

It’s more like two miles and about half way there, the curb cuts at the corners start disappearing. It has turned into a trudge and a couple of hours later, we’re finally at the zoo’s gate.



We’re worn out and a bit moody. Hundreds of kids…who have helpfully been given noisemakers…are swarming the area on field trips. We take a couple of hours to see about half of the zoo before we throw in the towel.

We did get to see most of the birds, my wife’s favorite part, and a few big animals and monkeys before leaving.



At least this time we’re smart enough to take the bus back. Stay tuned for the final Denver chapter where The World on Wheels crew gets to take center stage.

-Darryl

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved



Sunday, August 24, 2014

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Denver Pub Crawl, Part 1



Colorado bills itself as the "Napa Valley of Beer." With over 100 microbreweries and a couple of major ones...including the massive Coors complex in Golden...the nickname is apt.




Kind of like Munich, you're never going to hit all the spots you want but we'll make an effort all the same.  We did hit enough bars and breweries that we'll have to split this into two parts with the finale coming next week.



Watch the Video!


Our first stop was actually not a planned stop.We couldn't find the first one (we rectify that with next week's episode) and the second, Pint's Pub, has no wheelchair access.


Walking along 16th Street Mall, we step into the first bar we see that doesn't look like a chain. That's how we ended up at the Paramount Cafe, the bar and restaurant attached to the Paramount Theater.


It's dark with a lot of red lighting inside.  It's also Happy Hour so we're able to get a little break on the price.  Letty has the house beer, a Big Nose Brewery Wheat ale that is brewed next door.  Tim and I have the New Belgium Trippel.  You might be more familiar with this Boulder, Colorado's other beer brand, Fat Tire Ale.




Both are very good and as a bonus, we get to meet Denver Robo Mike, a fixture on the 16th Street roster of street performers.  He's taking a break and we get to have a beer with him and chat about the NBA.


Next, we walk over to the Brown Palace Hotel, an absolutely beautiful, century old hotel that features a stained glass roof, its own artesian well, wrought iron railing, and the clubby Ship Tavern tucked into a corner off of the lobby.

In this dark little wood-paneled room, we try a Warsteiner from Germany that tasted a little skunky, the Avalanche Ale from local Breckenridge Brewery, and a glass of 10 year old port from Graham's.  See the video above for some more from the hotel, which is an amazing place.

Our last stop this day is another Happy Hour at the Apaloosa Grill back on 16th Street.  Here, all Colorado brews are only $3 a pint during Happy Hour, so I try a New Belgium Blue Paddle Ale, Letty gets the house merlot, and we share a shot of Casa Noble Crystal tequila.  All very good.





That's it for today, be sure to watch the video above for much more detail about the pubs we visited and come back next week as we dig a little deeper into the local beer scene here in Denver.

-Darryl

Friday, August 22, 2014

Denver, Colorado - Part 1


In our quest to see every Major League Baseball stadium, we can usually do 2 or 3 in a trip because they tend to be in clusters…San Francisco and Oakland; Yankees and Mets; Cubs and White Sox…one destination has eluded us for a while because it stands alone.


Denver, where the plains meet the Rockies in central Colorado, has no other MLB stadium for hundreds of miles. 


We finally bit the bullet, got some cheap tickets on Southwest, and decided to make a long weekend of it.



Watch the Video!

It’s just a bit over two hours to fly from LAX to DEN.  With the low fare, $199 round trip each – tax inclusive, it was cheaper than driving which would be 1,000 miles over two days each way with our current $4+ per gallon gasoline.


Our hotel would again be the Drury Inn and Suites, our pick for last year’s hotel chain of the year, in Englewood.  That’s 8 miles south of downtown.  We picked the Drury because of the great experiences we’ve had with them in the past. The room was a large two-room suite with an accessible bathroom, king size bed, queen size sofa bed, two large screen LCD TV’s.  Drury also throws in a full, hot breakfast buffet, a lite dinner, cocktail hour, Wi-Fi or wired Internet access, long distance phone calls, and all the soda and popcorn you can eat for free.


The bathroom had a tub and I had called to reserve a bath chair.  Roll-in showers are also available, but for our use, a tub and chair are just as easy so I usually skip the roll-in to let someone who really needs it have one available.




Except this time they didn’t have a chair. After some back and forth negotiation, I had them put in one of the pool chairs and they knocked $180 off of my entire room rate for the inconvenience.


Even though they offered to find me another room at another hotel, I didn’t want to move because we had no car and this hotel is adjacent to the Dry Creek light rail station.




The next morning, after breakfast and showering, we head over to the rail station which actually turned out to be quite a walk. Each light rail station has a ramp at the driver’s end for wheelchairs. When the train pulled in, the driver deployed a ramp and Tim rolled in.




There are dedicated spots with pull-up benches for two wheelchairs and a third can get in the space behind the cab.  This is also the place for strollers so you can see there can be a maximum of three strollers or wheelchairs on each train, even though each train is designed to carry 12 to 18 (depending on if it is a two or three car train).


Although the light rail is accessible, and we never had a problem with it, they really missed the boat by not making the entire platform at train height to increase capacity. We did see a couple of people left behind because there was no more room.




We took the train all the way to Union Station in Downtown Denver. It’s time to play ball!


Coors Field is three blocks away but construction around Union Station forced us to add a couple of blocks to that. Even so, it wasn’t a brutal march and we arrived in plenty of time for the game.




It was cold and gray but Tim got us great seats behind home plate that had just enough overhang from the deck above to protect us from the rain that would come later without blocking too much of our view. It was a chilly 43 degrees that would drop to a cold 38 by the time the afternoon game would finish.




The stadium is nice and retro-modern in the way so many baseball stadiums are these days. The food was decent but nothing to write home about. The draft beer selection was dominated by the namesake Coors brewery and most really craft brews were in bottles but there was still a decent selection on tap. Wine, cocktails, and hard liquor are readily available if you don’t like beer.  Both food and beer prices were pretty reasonable for a major league stadium.


Denver is known as a home run park, due to being a mile high. In fact, if you look at the top deck, you’ll see a row of seats painted purple. This marks the exact mile high elevation spot.




Even with a center field a deep 415 feet away, we saw several balls leave the yard.  The Rockies pushed ahead 7-1 but a devastating error by starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin in the 7th inning led to a big comeback by the visiting San Diego Padres, who went on to win 9-7 on that cold, rainy field.  




MLB stadium number 21 was now in the books as our second coldest game, behind an April game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field where the temp was 26 degrees with a wind chill factor of 16.  Still, it was a lot of fun and Denver is a nice stadium.


We didn’t eat too much at the game and we were hungry afterward. A two block walk took us to the Wynkoop Brewery on the corner of 18th and Wynkoop.  Although the place looked full, there were actually quite a few tables open at this huge dining room so we were seated immediately.


Denver likes to call itself the “Napa Valley of Beer” which is a pretty apt description. With over 100 microbreweries and a couple of majors, I think it should be called the Belgium of the USA, but that might be a little beyond some people’s understanding. 




Wynkoop is one of the oldest of the microbreweries. You can taste their different varieties for $1 for each 5 ounce taster. We tasted a few with our dinner of gumbo, bratwurst sausage mac ‘n cheese, and a delicious buttermilk fried chicken. 


Our first major meal in Denver was quite a success.




Meal over, it was back on the light rail to the hotel and time to rest up for the next part of our trip.

-Darryl


Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved